Juan Mata Issues Rallying Cry Ahead of Manchester United's Derby Clash with City

Christopher Simpson@@CJSimpsonBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 7, 2017

Manchester United's Juan Mata celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Manchester United at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Rui Vieira/Associated Press

Manchester United star Juan Mata is refusing to give up on the Premier League title and has called on his team-mates to capitalise on any slip-up leaders Manchester City make.

The Red Devils take on the Sky Blues at Old Trafford on Sunday and could narrow the gap at the top to five points with a win. Likewise, losing the match would put them 11 points behind.

According to Richard Tanner of the Daily Express, Mata said: "It's very difficult, especially in the Premier League, for anyone to win every single game. When you play teams like Watford, Stoke [City], West Ham [United] it's very difficult to win every game and we need to be ready if they drop points."

The Spaniard believes United can still catch their rivals, contrary to the belief of many pundits:

"Most of them [the pundits] have played football and they know how football can change. If they have said it's all over then I don't think they really believe it.

"I remember a few seasons ago when United were eight points ahead of City with only six games left and yet City still won the title on goal difference.

"It's a crazy league and it's too early to think that it's finished. From City they will tell you the same. We need to look at the bigger picture. We've just started December and it's a crucial month with a lot of games."

City have spent much of the season blowing teams away, but they have had to grind out 2-1 wins in their last three Premier League matches, two of which required them to come from behind.

Football writer Liam Canning believes they're there for the taking, while The Independent's Miguel Delaney said it is telling the side have still managed to win despite their performance levels dropping:

It's virtually impossible for any side to maintain the kind of momentum City enjoyed earlier in the season, particularly with the busy Christmas period approaching and fatigue perhaps starting to kick in.

That they have continued to pick up three points on a consistent basis is a testament to their title credentials, though the coming weeks will provide a significant test, starting with United.

City suffered their first defeat in any competition this season on Wednesday when they lost 2-1 against Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League.

Goal's Sam Lee noted the challenge the defeat presents:

United will be missing Paul Pogba, which is a significant dent to their hopes of winning the contest, but with the match at Old Trafford, they will feel they can earn at least a point given City have been a little below par of late.

A victory would be much more useful, but avoiding defeat is critical—should United find themselves 11 points behind City, it would take a monumental turnaround for them to have a chance of winning the title.